Monday, November 22, 2010

Wales - Claims that some parts of the Principality will have to wait 30 years for broadband

{walesonline] Rural Wales will have to wait almost 30 years before every home is connected to broadband because a flagship Assembly Government scheme to tackle blackspots has flopped, it has been claimed.

Andrew Smith, a business development manager with TFL Marketing, said the Assembly Government’s broadband support scheme had failed to catch on in rural areas.

In July, it was announced any house or business that cannot get broadband or receives a connection which is consistently less than 512 kilobytes per second will qualify for financial assistance of £1,000.

The Assembly Government said it had approved more than 345 applications and continues to urge rural householders to take advantage of the assistance.

But with the policy launched on July 21, 345 approvals equates to just over 20 per week.

Mr Smith said there are around 30,000 Welsh homes in areas with no access to broadband – meaning that at the existing rate of approvals, it will take more than 28 years to bring broadband to all of rural Wales.

Those in not-spots can use the £1,000 on an individual basis to buy satellite broadband or club together with others on community schemes to help fund new communications infrastructure like masts.

Mr Smith, whose firm provides wireless broadband throughout South West and Mid Wales, said his company was involved in just two schemes: one representing 30 households and the other around 200.

He said: “If you’ve got a situation where there’s four or five people then notionally you’ve got £4,000 to £5,000 on getting a solution in.

“But it might cost £10,000 for TFL to go through the process of extending its network, putting a mast up and bringing that signal in as well as all the costs of putting the hardware on the houses.”

A not-spot is usually the result of distance from the local telephone exchange – the further away the weaker the broadband signal becomes.

Avonline, which provides satellite broadband in rural Wales, said they have been disappointed by the response to the scheme and have started publicising it themselves.

Justin McKenzie, the Bristol firm’s broadband services supervisor, said they had sent out around 390 quotes connected to the support scheme and were receiving about five orders per week.

“We thought there was going to be a lot more quotes and orders coming through a lot quicker.

“We’ve done a few radio adverts ourselves and have advertised in the local papers – we also do mail shots and that’s just to try to attract some interest in it,” said Mr McKenzie.

Mr Smith said marketing for BT’s Race to Infinity scheme to roll out super-fast 40-megabyte broadband has been far more effective than publicity for the Assembly Government’s programme.

Under Race to Infinity, BT is asking people to vote for their communities to be connected to 40Mb broadband so the company can assess where demand is highest.

The firm has promised to make cash available for infrastructure to the five areas receiving the most votes.

Mr Smith said even though people in rural Wales had far less chance of getting broadband through this competition it had caught the imagination in a way the Assembly Government’s scheme had not. He said: “I can go down to local shops and there’s a poster in the window encouraging people to register for Infinity.

“You won’t see anything like that with the Assembly scheme because it hasn’t captured the imagination.”

Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones said in addition to the 345 approved applications a further 415 were being completed.

He said: “The Assembly Government is determined to find ways of opening up access for the relatively few areas in Wales that remain unable to benefit from broadband services.

“If Wales is to have a competitive infrastructure then access to broadband is vital.

“This scheme will allow businesses and individuals to get online and develop our knowledge economy.”

Households in rural areas could be facing 30-year wait for broadband

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